LA River Historical Flows, circa 1879

February 3, 2022 § 5 Comments

Just a quick note to add some perspective to a recent LA Times article about treated wastewater discharged into the LA River and the possibility that this could be reduced. The amount of water in the river in its “beforetimes” has been the subject of quite some argument that sometimes gets trotted out to justify modern decisions. So here’s documentation from the State Engineer William Hammond Hall circa 1877 (Emphasis mine):

The drainage of the Los Angeles river after leaving the Sierra Madre Mountains is received into the large basin of the San Fernando Valley, whose soil is gravelly and porous, but probably underlaid with an impervious substration(sic) of clay or rock , and acting as a great sponge, it holds the water it receives and gives it off slowly. This valley is shut in on the south of the coast range at the foot of which the river runs, finding an outlet through the hills by a narrow gap just above the city of Los Angeles. The streams emptying into the basin are the Paloma, the Pacoima, the Tujunga, and the Verdugo, of which the largest is the Tujunga. Like all the mountain torrents which descend from the Sierra Madre, they have a very rapid fall, and on reaching the valley spread out into broad “washes”, whose beds are composed of boulders gravel and coarse sand. In flow they flow entirely across the valley to the Los Angeles river, but in summer the water barely emerges from the mountains, and sinks from sight in the porous channels. The Arroyo Seco, another large tributary having the same characteristics as the other mountain torrents, enters the river at the city of Los Angeles.

In May last the discharge of the river at the mouth of Tujunga Wash ten miles above the city, where the upper dam of the Los Angeles irrigation system is located, was 24 ½ cubic feet per second. This amount was augmented by about 54 cubic feet per second from springs rising in the bed of the river at various points between this dam and the city. The total available supply therefore was about 78 ½ cubic feet per second. An amount which is but little diminished during the summer months.

Below the city the river is broad, shallow and sandy, and only upon rare occasions does the water ever find its way entirely to the sea, but is absorbed by the thirsty sand.

-State Engineer William Hammond Hall Papers, Misc. Working Papers, General Irrigation Info, Reports- LA County (Schuyler)
Which are at the State Archives under AC 91-06-10

(Schuyler FWIW is the actual person taking the measurements and writing the notes…The dam mentioned is near present day North Hollywood. That total flow description is for flow approximately near Figueroa Street in Northeast LA – He doesn’t mention any inflow from the Arroyo Seco, so it’s hard to say if he was measuring above or below that)

It’s a shame the terms of contemporary debate are so narrow that serious people only argue about how much life support (treated sewage aka used imported water) to give the river – if any. In some parallel universe there is perhaps a dialogue being had about recharging groundwater, reconnecting floodplains, and removing or reducing the effect of dams on river flows… but for us, in this universe, we don’t even have in the English language much of a functioning subjunctive tense with which to describe the possibilities that the river (and we) deserve, without being laughed out of the room.

But the subjunctive still gives us this: Long live the river!

A buried creek’s dilemma: to be daylighted or drained?

December 28, 2021 § 3 Comments

[Opening digression: I was just texted an image predicting rainfall for LA for the next few days – it looks like you could get hammered (rainfall-wise – what you do with alcohol I have no predictions for), so this post may seem ironic, misplaced, bad timing? You’ve got a trough heading your way and if it doesn’t keep moving…well let’s just hope that it does. The focus of today’s post is dry-weather flows…]


To those of us who recognize stormdrains (or, some of them) as body-snatched creeks, and who long for a water management approach that would incorporate daylighting or naturalization of concreted waterways and nature-based treatment that doubles as streetside landscaping, floodable parks, greenways, etc., well, prepare to be disappointed. Or enraged? Whichever, it’s a familiar feeling. At least we’re not alone on this.

The City of LA recently issued an IS/MND (Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration) and awarded a contract to start work on diverting low flows from certain stormdrains. The low flows – aka urban slobber in some circles – would be pumped from the storm drains into the sewer system, so that they can be treated for pollutants. From there, like the rest of the region’s wastewater, it either gets discharged into flood control channels rivers, is infiltrated to groundwater, or reused (such as purple pipe irrigation). So you can see how it closes some loops and ticks some sustainability boxes.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Restoring Neighborhood Streams: a book that LA could use

February 19, 2018 § 9 Comments

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-16,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Creekfreaks! If you, like me, have resolved to pull away a bit from the netflix-amazonprime-hulu bingefests that serve as a daily nonpharma escapist (are we really living these political times?) opiate, and if maybe you, like me, are rediscovering those magical things called books – then I have a few reads for you! They range from  practical, to lyrical, to celebratory. Personally, I find them all inspirational. In today’s post, I give you –

The Practical: Restoring Neighborhood Streams; Planning, Design, and Construction

Restoring Neighborhood Streams; Planning, Design, and Construction (2016, Island Press), builds on author A.L. Riley’s decades of engagement and effort in the restoring and daylighting of streams in urban and suburban areas. This Creekfreak was especially influenced by Riley and her work. Her previous book, Restoring Streams in Cities, is well dog-eared in my library, and has been an important go-to reference for how to think about stream function and restoration design. This new book provides case studies that illuminate fundamental questions that should be the basis for planning and design of urban stream restoration:

  • Is it physically feasible to restore?
  • Is it financially feasible?
  • Does the public support (I’d add: political will) exist to support land use changes to support a live river or stream?

« Read the rest of this entry »

Garcetti Announces US Army Corps Support for $1B LA River Plan

May 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today's press conference in Elysian Valley.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today’s press conference in Elysian Valley.

Earlier today, Mayor Garcetti announced U.S. Army Corps of Engineers support for Option 20 – the most ambitious of various USACE projects for L.A. River habitat restoration. For more of the story, including some impromptu Lewis MacAdams poetry, see my article today at Streetsblog Los Angeles.

Reflections on River Access

October 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sepulveda Basin: Great Blue Heron and Kayakers, Summer (painting by Joan Wolfe ©2012)

As the heat of summer slowly (hopefully) begins to wind down, so too has the second season of the pioneering L.A. River kayak and canoe excursions. The final group dropped into the River this past Sunday, an undoubtedly leisurely paddle between willows and sycamores, shopping carts and plastic bags. The 2012 installment hosted approximately 2,000 participants, an impressive increase from 2011, when the count for the pilot program was 260. The number of outfits operating on the River has also doubled and now includes Paddle the L.A. River (organized by L.A. Conservation Corps, MRCA, The River Project, FoLAR and Urban Semillas) and L.A. River Expeditions (organized by George Wolfe and the San Joaquin River Stewardship Program). I had the pleasure of paddling with both groups as a guest educator (thanks to Melanie Winter and George Wolfe for getting me out there!), a journey every Angeleno within reach of a buoyant non-motorized vessel should be able to experience at least once. « Read the rest of this entry »

L.A. River Kayak Tour Video

September 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

Damon Nagami posted the video above at NRDC Switchboard. It’s an excellent, enthusiastic video review of just how fun the latest round of L.A. River kayaking tours are. It’s been great to see lots of photos and positive reviews on Facebook (some of which we’ve shared at the L.A. Creek Freak Facebook group page.) Angelenos are enjoying their river.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Grist’s L.A. River Series

August 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

The nearly unrecognizable Los Angeles River in the West San Fernando Valley

This week, Grist is publishing a very good 4-part series on the Los Angeles – written by Christian MilNeil. So far, they’ve posted parts one, two, and three. They have lots of worthwhile things to say, and they quote quite a few friends of the blog, including Melanie Winter and Jenny Price.

Check it out starting here.

This Morning’s L.A. River Art

July 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

So… no posts for a month, then two today… oh well. On my way bicycling back from this morning’s groundbreaking, I stopped to do a river sketch.

Los Angeles River – Elysian Valley – at 2 Freeway Bridge, by Joe Linton, ink on paper in Sketchbook No. 62, 25 June 2012, about 11″x14″

It’s in Elysian Valley, looking upstream toward the 2 Freeway Bridge. Note that I typically do a lot of vertical hatching, but when there’s water, the horizontal hatching is called for. More of my river drawings in my book, at my art show (up through August 15th 2012) and at my art blog.

I wasn’t the only person out doing L.A. River art today. « Read the rest of this entry »

Sunnynook River Park Groundbreaking

July 25, 2012 § 8 Comments

Sunnynook River Park groundbreaking: golden shovels lifting ceremonial soil. Visible from left to right City Engineer Gary Moore, Councilmember Garcetti, Councilmember Reyes, Councilmember LaBonge, Recreation & Parks Assistant General Manager Kevin Regan, FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams, and State Assemblymember Mike Gatto

Before a crowd of about 90, the city of Los Angeles broke ground on Sunnynook River Park this morning. The new Atwater Village park will be located in the mostly vacant area on the southwest bank of the Los Angeles River, between Glendale Boulevard and Los Feliz Boulevard – immediately downstream of the Sunnynook footbridge. « Read the rest of this entry »

Progress on West Valley River Bridges and Bike Path

June 1, 2012 § 6 Comments

Steelhead trout medallion on the new Tampa Avenue Bridge over the L.A. River

I got a chance to bike in the West San Fernando Valley last week, and took a few photos of the Los Angeles River bike path project under construction. It’s a construction site right now, but a lot of the hardscape – new bridges and bridge undercrossings – appears more-or-less done.

The 2.2-mile bike path will extend from the Vanalden Avenue footbridge to Hartland Street (immediately upstream/west of Mason Avenue.) The first phase of the bike path (0.8 mile from Vanalden Avenue to Corbin Avenue) had been projected to be open around October 2012. I don’t know the timeline for subsequent phases, but it seems like the upstream construction is already underway, so the extension from Corbin to Winnetka shouldn’t take a whole lot longer.  « Read the rest of this entry »

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